Ties That Bind
"Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow..." - Margaret Atwood
Dear reader, I've been working on this story for way too long (umm since like 2010?) and decided to start posting it already to make myself stop procrastinating… long live Sobiwan :D
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
Several kilometers northwest of Naboo's capital city of Theed and in the Great Grass Plains, the ruins stood somberly, their massive size and height making them easy to see from a distance. Thousands of years ago, the temple had been a pristine herald, a center of worship and devotion—but now grass grew wild in between the cracks, birds and small rodents made their homes wherever they pleased in the disheveled mess. Little else but worn down cobblestone floors and disintegrating walls remained now, leaving the many weatherworn statues of the moon goddess Shiraya to silently watch over her forgotten sanctuary.
Thwack thwack thwack! The sharp wooden sound of staffs hitting each other punctuated the otherwise peaceful evening ambiance. In the central atrium of the ruins, twenty new Royal Naboo Security Forces recruits were gathered in a wide semi-circle around two of the junior officers who were sparring in the traditional lim-staff style. Gregar Typho and Gavyn Sykes, both on their second years in the forces and more than proficient in lim-staff sparring were currently making a show of the match, enjoying the attention thoroughly. Thwack! Thwack! Gregar laughed aloud, dodging as Gavyn made a wide sweep aimed for him. A driven and striking young man with an easy smile and dark olive skin, Gregar stood in stark contrast to Gavyn, who was taller and lanky, more gifted in the cockpit of a starfighter than in face-to-face combat.
Watching several paces off with his hands clasped behind his back stood Lieutenant Panaka. Even though he was a staunch military man through and through, he wasn't past enjoying what he found to be the more recreational art of lim-staff sparring. Thwack! Gregar was now twirling his staff jauntily, a wide grin on his young face as Gavyn recoiled from a solid strike to his arm. Panaka couldn't help but smile, proud—at seventeen years of age, his nephew Gregar was fierce, confident, and ambitious—and now the winner of the current match, tripping Gavyn expertly and then holding him down with both his foot and the end of his staff. Gavyn held his hands up in defeat, shaking his head and assuring his opponent things would be different if they had been in starfighters. Gregar laughed and helped his opponent up, heartily clapping his friend on the back as he enthusiastically agreed to take that bet. The watching recruits cheered, and Gregar, basking in the glow of his win, threw his arms wide, grinning. "Who's next?" One of the more brawny male recruits by the name of Will Chamberlyn accepted the challenge, and another intense round of lim-staffing commenced, a rhythmic staccato of wood striking wood.
Beside Panaka stood Captain Magneta, head of the forces. A short, built woman who was distinctly hawkish, her jet-black hair and almond-shaped eyes could have made her beautiful—but she was a very severe woman, both in personality and physical appearance. Most of her femininity had been traded long ago for the lifestyle of military. She leaned a little closer to Panaka, speaking quietly. "That nephew of yours is too showy for his own good." She sent him a sidelong glance. "But, there's no denying he's a good fighter." Welling up with pride, Panaka sent her a thin, quick smile. He was more than proud of the young man Gregar was becoming—a warrior, a thinker. Admittedly, sometimes the boy could be too overconfident and prideful, but time would soften those flaws as it always did. Panaka glanced at Magneta, hoping she of all people would see what he did in Gregar. Her entire life was the forces, much like Panaka, and he had come to respect her over all for her dedication and shrewdness. She lived and breathed for her recruits, thought of nothing else but the Security Forces, spent her free time planning and creating new programs and initiatives.
She liked to bring the newest recruits out to these ruins for training—today had been the usual run of training-droid drills, target practice, and an introduction to evasive tactics in the field. The distance from the rest of civilization seemed to instill new focus and initiative into the recruits, so Magneta insisted on the old temple site in trainings.
It was ironic that Naboo was one of the most highly pacifist planets in the Republic and yet here they were, a group of people who defied the weaker ways of pacifism. Panaka's personal belief was that Naboo was behind the times in its presumption that its peaceful nature would keep it from harm and conflict and he made it his life's work to further what little military and security Naboo had. The hope was that someday, his planet would be able to stand and fight in the face of any given disaster, equip itself with an army. And right now, among this group of enthusiastic protectors and military-minded individuals, he felt optimistic he would see this happen in his lifetime.
Thwack! Gregar brought the current sparring to an abrupt end with a quick strike and the heel of his boot as he held his opponent down for three counts as the onlookers wildly cheered, caught up in the intensity of the sport. Shaking his head balefully, Will climbed back to his feet at the end of three counts. Gregar strutted a little, calling for his next opponent. Panaka chuckled, scanning the faces for a volunteer, and then, out of nowhere, the shortest, smallest, youngest recruit stepped out from the rest. Sabé Nebira—she was one of the newest recruits and was already grabbing a spare lim-staff and tested its weight, one-handed, almost casual. With dark brown hair and pretty features, she wasn't a typical recruit. She was very petite, standing at least a head and a half shorter than everyone else there, but her confidence seemed to supersede her size. Her expression was calm and calculating, her chin held high, as if she was daring someone to defy her. Gregar hesitated as she gave the staff a twirl across from him, and his expression of confusion prompted the slightest of smiles from her. "What... are you afraid to fight a girl?" she prompted. The question was joking and light, but there was a deliberateness to the words, and a funny little smile quirked the side of her mouth.
Gregar's eyebrows rose and he smiled loftily, folding his arms and giving the impression of complete confidence. "I'm just nervous I might squish you, Shortstack."
At the word Shortstack, her expression flickered just slightly, but projecting vague disinterest, she gave her staff a deft twirl, settling into a deep ready stance. "You're implying you can actually keep up with me."
Gregar grinned, taking his ready stance, and they waited for the other to make the first move. A complete silence fell over the onlookers and a moment passed in which the two opponents leveled gazes at each other, perhaps telepathically daring the other to move first. And just when it seemed they would never begin, Gregar leapt forward, bringing his staff down with one hand in a crashing sweep—but Sabé had anticipated his attack and with surprising speed, sidestepped the blow, making one of her own aimed for his ribs which he barely managed to parry. Thwack thwack thwack! And it was off, the ancient and intricate dance of footwork, speed, and precision. Sabé managed to keep her defensive up as Gregar released a blazing offensive complete with a grin here and there.
"She's too small," Magneta muttered, shaking her head. Panaka glanced at her, and then back at Sabé's slight figure. Magneta didn't always agree with the recruits he brought into the forces—she preferred more brawn than brain, while Panaka valued the subtlety of intelligence and offense. But even he had almost sent Sabé out of his office when one week ago he had looked up to see her standing there with her interview file—she just looked so small at first glance, so young. But then he had grudgingly looked at her file, spoken with her. And in the span of thirty minutes he had fallen for the subtle charm of her standoffish personality and her knack for irony, her penchant for picking up on small details. In time, he believed the skills she exhibited would make her into an excellent profiler. Still, he knew if she were to succeed in the security forces, she would need to make up for her small stature in speed and intelligence. But so far... she seemed to be doing just that.
For nearly two full minutes, Sabé successfully held off Gregar's advances... but as the time ticked on, they began to lose their edge to exhaustion. In a more desperate move, Gregar whacked Sabé hard on the knuckles. Sabé yelped in surprise as she shook her hand out, knuckles already bright red from the hit. He shrugged, panting, feigning innocence. "Whoops."
She snorted. "That's cheating." The comment wasn't an accusation—she grinned as if she'd been given permission to do the same. She took her injured hand and gripped the staff with both hands right in the middle, swung it in a smooth arc and suddenly Gregar found himself on defensive against a swift and reenergized attack, backing up as Sabé struck at him from all sides. Switching the staff to one hand, she leapt high and brought it down to be met by his staff just barely.
Using the momentum, Gregar pushed hard, causing Sabé to fly backwards, stumbling and rolling onto the ground. He laughed in good nature as she scrambled to her feet. "Nice try, Lightspeed." He turned his attention to the other recruits, throwing his hands high and receiving applause.
Sabé gave a harsh, short laugh, out of breath. "So you're proud of yourself for being able to knock around someone half your size?" That drew laughter from the onlookers. Gregar's smile deflated a bit as Sabé stood there smirking, suddenly the crowd favorite, the underdog. Beside Panaka, Magneta was smiling.
Twirling his staff lightly and attempting to remain aloof and cool despite his obvious frustration, Gregar leveled Sabé with a steady gaze. "I think it's time to end this little game."
Sabé held her staff in one hand and fell into a strike stance. "Yes, please. Go ahead and try." She held up her hand, palm flat, bent her fingers in twice—an open invitation to fight. Sabé might have had natural ability and speed, but Gregar was now in serious mode and Panaka winced as he watched his nephew unleash an unrelenting attack upon the small recruit. Within thirty seconds Gregar knocked her down, but the second she was on her back, she had rolled to the side and jumped back to her feet, hindering Gregar from holding her down for a count.
Gregar narrowed his eyes at the girl, who was sinking back into a ready stance. "Do yourself a favor—stay down next time."
Slightly shaken, Sabé shrugged, breathing heavy. "Not my style."
Again, Gregar charged and again Sabé held up a defensive for a few seconds before Gregar slammed her down to the ground. But before he could pin her, she rolled backward over her shoulders and was suddenly back on her feet, panting. Her hair, which had at one point been tightly pulled back from her face in a high ponytail was now lopsided, falling, and frizzed. Her face was now angry, her calm mask quickly fading. Gregar's voice was rising. "You just don't get a hint, do you?"
She hadn't even stood up all the way before she threw her staff at him—an entirely illegal move. Using the brief moment of surprise, Sabé grabbed hold of his staff with both hands and in a show of surprising strength and dexterity she yanked him toward her, sweeping her leg into his shin and successfully tripping him—but taking her with him. They tumbled to the ground, both fighting for the high ground but instead rolling around haphazardly toward the onlookers. Everyone scattered to avoid being hit by the two, and Magneta rose up beside Panaka, no longer amused, but instead frowning at the unprofessional turn the match had taken. "Enough, recruits." The two of them didn't seem to hear their commanding officer, continuing to obliviously half-wrestle half-ground-fight, completely unaware of anything but the other. "I said, enough!" Magneta repeated to no avail. "Typho! Nebira!" The thunderous shout stopped them cold and a heavy silence spanned the entire group, the only sound was of Sabé and Gregar's labored breathing as they seemed to remember themselves under Magneta's highly dangerous glare. "On. Your. Feet."
They complied immediately, standing to attention as Magneta approached them and glared down her nose at them. Panaka watched the slight terror materialize on his nephew's face as Sabé's face became a blank mask. Magneta wasn't the tallest or loudest, but she was damned imposing, especially when she let the silence hang like she did. "You will both do well to obey my orders in the future," she said in an all too calm voice. "Typho, I'm disappointed." Her gaze flickered over to Sabé before she turned to the breathless and silent onlookers. "Recruits, we're heading back to the city." She turned her piercing gaze back to Sabé and Gregar. "These two will be walking back to Theed tonight."
She signaled smartly with three fingers for everyone to head back to the speeders, leaving Gregar Typho and Sabé Nebira blank faced and out of breath, exchanging an angry glare. Panaka shook his head, sighing and leaving before Gregar could say anything to him. As he filed out of the atrium and into one of the main ways out onto the plains, he thought he heard Gregar accusingly grumbling something about "your fault" to which Sabé promptly said something very unladylike in return. Chuckling, Panaka fell into step beside Magneta. Glancing sidelong at her, he was surprised to see a rare, secretive smile on her face. Speaking low, she leaned a bit closer. "I like their spirits," she said. "They both need some discipline, but I can wear the stubbornness out of them."
Panaka snorted, watching the recruits piling into the three speeders that would take them back to Theed. "I can't speak for Nebira, but... this is Gregar we're talking about."
"Trust me, Lieutenant. Gregar has had it easy up to now." The words, seemingly ominous, were accompanied by an almost playful smile. Before Panaka could even react, Magneta swung easily into her seat in her flash speeder, once again the picture of professional indifference as she keyed in the ignition code. Panaka slowly slid into his seat beside her, and as the engines roared to life, he glanced back—and there were the two misfits emerging down the crumbling steps of the temple. Sabé was shoving Typho sideways as he threw his hands up in defeat or defense—it was difficult to tell. A smile came to Panaka's face as he turned back to face front, the lush landscape suddenly whizzing by as the speeder lurched into motion. He too had been young and impulsive once, not to mention overly prideful and self confident. Those two young ones would learn in time. Panaka smiled to himself. He knew Gregar held a destiny in the forces, it was in his very blood. As for Sabé... only time would tell.
Four Years Later
Beyond the squared shoulders of the two pilots and the multicolored blinking lights on the starship's console, suspended in inky space dotted by millions of stars: a jewel-like green and blue planet called Naboo. Obi-Wan Kenobi, seated in the shadows beside his Jedi master, contemplated the sight with something close to indifference, noticing instead the pattern of hundreds of gray starships dotting the area around the planet. There was no mistaking those ships. A formidable power in the Republic, the Trade Federation had seized control of Naboo's space, effectively blockading the peaceful, unarmed planet for over two weeks now. Dispatched in secret as the issue was endlessly delayed in the Senate, Obi-Wan and his Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn anticipated the negotiations would be short and simple—the two of them would easily bring a peaceful solution to the rocky situation and then be on their way. And so, already reasonably sure of what to expect and not curious, having seen too many beautiful planets to be particularly affected or interested by the current sight, Obi-Wan had no reason to look twice at Naboo. But, years later, even in the last moments of his life, this very day would be recognized by him as one of the most important days he would ever live—the day itself would not change his life... but the events it set into motion would.
Down on the planet's surface inside the royal palace, in the middle of absolute chaos, a solitary person held still. The captain of the guard barked out orders to the few men under his command and the other four handmaidens clustered around the Queen, but Sabé Nebira stood away from everyone else, staring into the large floor-to-ceiling window in front of her. She could just see her reflection, ghostly and distorted in the panes of glass. She reached out, just barely, toward her image. She didn't recognize herself. Dark, frightened eyes stared back from a mask of white accented with crisp red—the traditional royal makeup of the Queen of Naboo. The jet black dress she wore swallowed everything but her face and tips of her fingers. An immense black feathered headdress with artfully crafted filigree details made the petite handmaiden seem taller and more imposing—but she felt exposed and small, helpless against the oncoming storm. She glanced back over her shoulder at Queen Padmé Amidala, who, disguised as a simple handmaiden, whispered words of comfort to her other four handmaidens. Yané was sobbing openly as the other girls struggled to hold themselves together. Sabé was struck by how young all of them looked. How young they all were.
The rhythmic thud of the battle droids march grew louder, punctuated sporadically by blasterfire. Turning her gaze again to the window, Sabé could see them now, hundreds of spindly droids filing uniformly up the wide plaza on a steady march toward the palace. With each step the droids took, she felt sure her heart beat even faster. "Let them capture you peacefully. Don't resist," Padmé had commanded both her and Panaka's forces just moments ago. So, they waited, each second feeling like a thousand.
Sabé glanced at where Panaka and the palace guards stood and felt a panicked sort of regret swell up inside her. She had willingly left behind four years of service in the security forces to move onto the duties that came with being a handmaiden and decoy. Not because of a loyalty to the Royal House of Naboo, but because of Panaka who had convinced her how fulfilling the position would be, how bright a future it would bring her. Now, a handful of months into Padmé Amidala's reign, Sabé silently waited, disguised as Queen Amidala with orders to stand down to an enemy she desperately wanted to fight. Waiting meekly to be captured was not what she had imagined. Doing nothing was what Sabé hated.
She closed her eyes against the haze of building angers and fears, breathing deeply and searching for reserves of strength and bravery, hoping they existed beneath the most secret and desperate desire to run away. She felt the solid weight of her blaster strapped to her thigh underneath the heavy layers of her dress and wondered what good the weapon would do if the time came. A vague, sick feeling held her in a chokehold. Her chest and throat hurt with effort to keep from crying. You coward, her mind whispered. Shocked at the unbidden thought, Sabé felt indignant anger surge forth—but below the anger, the deeply rooted fear remained, unwilling to let her go. Sabé opened her eyes as the anger cooled off into familiar nervous anxiety. The droids, hundreds upon hundreds, still pressed forward, every moment closer to the palace. They would overtake the palace soon and capture her shortly after. And after that... the future was uncertain. Strange. Life had always been this way for her, hadn't it? Storm after storm and tragedy after tragedy, yet she still remained. That thought alone somehow comforted her. And thinking of the two people she would have given anything to save, she did what she knew her parents would be proud of.
Sabé drew herself up to her full height, willing herself to be brave. She was committed to the end, and she knew that. She clasped her hands in front of herself and then turned around to face fate without any grand fanfare.
Seven Standard Hours Later
The Outskirts of Mos Espa, Tatooine
Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty, pause. Forty-one, forty-two, forty-three, pause. Sabé tried not to count. Forty-four, forty-five, forty-six, pause. It didn't seem to be working. From her seat in the Queen's throne, she watched Captain Panaka pace back and forth with military precision, three long strides each way and a brief pause when he turned on his heel. As the captain continued what Sabé could only guess was an attempt to wear a decent-sized hole into the ship with his feet, she kept counting, hardly even realizing it. Standing on either side of her, Rabé and Eirtaé remained stock still. The girls were newer to what Sabé had jokingly, on occasion, called "the Panaka Regime," but they knew enough to keep quiet until he spoke at the cost of getting their heads ripped off—such was the mood he was in.
Thump, thump, thump. The footfalls and the soft whir of the recycling air system continued to be the only sounds filling the small royal chamber. The starship they were currently confined to—the Pristine—had been designed six years ago specifically for the monarch's leisure. Not for daring escapes or unforeseeably long journeys, but for day trips and vacation transportation. For a crew of eight, not for the close to thirty aboard right now. There wasn't even a kitchen, only a small storage of foodstuffs. Not good, Sabé reflected. She guessed that from the hours they had been in hyperspace, they had to be at least thirty-thousand lightyears from home. Her heart sank a little more at the thought. Just an hour ago they had landed the damaged starship on some middle-of-nowhere planet in hopes of finding parts—parts that were needed after a daring escape from their home planet. Sabé's mind spun with all the other possible scenarios that could have played out—most of them seemed better than this one. After all, being effectively stuck with a ship that couldn't fly, on a planet that wasn't part of the Republic, and in the charge of two Jedi who had come out of nowhere and were strangers to everyone... Sabé was left struggling to stay focused and calm. She found herself distractedly looking at the elegant ribbons of lighting overhead. The Naboo people were so focused on details, symmetry, and the beauty of balance in every aspect of their culture. The starship reflected this through and through, but Sabé found herself wondering at the tragedy of how such an advanced and profound culture could be so naive and unprepared.
Punctuated by the thump, thump, thump of Panaka's continued pacing, Sabé couldn't keep her thoughts from returning to their escape from Naboo, the horrors they had witnessed. They had rounded a corner in the heart of Theed's living quarters and seen a man resisting arrest. Point-blank, the droids blasted him, then his wife and little girl, too. And dumbly, Sabé and the others had done nothing, just kept walking, herded by their captors. Sabé couldn't get the image of the little girl from her mind. Bright eyes, blonde ringlets. She couldn't have been more than three years old. Deeply troubled, Sabé locked the memory away, tried to swallow the guilt. Tried not to wonder about how many others might die now, abandoned by their Queen.
Sabé then realized the Captain had stopped pacing. He was simply standing in front of her, staring into nothing. An imposing man with an austere countenance and a certain sort of sharpness about him, Panaka's stern expression could intimidate many people, and right now, even Sabé felt slightly nervous... just wanted him to get on with whatever ranting he was assuredly holding back. Aimed at no one in particular, he finally spoke, trying without much avail to hold back the frustration. "This plan of the Jedi's has left us in an extremely precarious position. We're completely unguarded—low on rations—past ship capacity with a bunch of restless pilots and not enough guards." He sighed heavily. "What if we've been followed, what if we're attacked by some local trouble?" He paused, looking at Rabé sharply. "Stand up straight," he barked, to which Rabé immediately complied. "Furthermore," the captain resumed pacing, suddenly bringing to mind a caged animal. "Her Royal Highness completely ignored my strongest advice against going into the city. What was she thinking?"
The girls exchanged furtive glances. They were well aware of everything he had just said. Sabé knew they had all been against Padmé's decision to accompany Master Qui-Gon into the city as well, but stubborn-as-durasteel Padmé would hear nothing of any protests. Padmé had insisted she would be able to better control the outcome of their predicament this way, and only Sabé had protested aloud, citing the Jedi's apparent recklessness and self-assuredness would not be swayed by who he presumed to be a simple handmaiden. But Padmé had already decided, and so she went.
"Captain Panaka, she is with a Jedi Master, I'm sure she will be fine..." Eirtaé ventured cautiously, probably hoping to calm down the captain, but instead receiving an angry retort.
"I am not sure she will be fine," Panaka snapped back, then relented slightly, sighing deeply. "This is dangerous and ludicrous. If we were followed we'll be sitting ducks—I should have been able to send a guard at least, or gone instead while the Jedi stayed here, that way..." he continued on with various other disjointed 'could haves' as the three handmaidens helplessly listened, prisoners of his tirade. Sabé could almost see the thoughts as they careened through Panaka's head right now—fears about losing his position as captain, or worse, being responsible for harm or even death of his Queen so newly elected—repercussions for all of the numberless disasters he was, no doubt, imagining. No wonder he couldn't stop babbling, he had never imagined this scenario. And now his anxieties were piling in on top of each other, affecting his usual calm and decisive nature. Having known Panaka for much longer than the other two girls, Sabé knew that his foul mood could quickly spread among the ranks if not checked. Although it was a calculated risk, Sabé decided to interrupt, taking a chance that her next words might divert the captain's attention and pacify his frustration. Or at the very least shut him up for a minute or two."...and taking the Gungan was probably not the best choice. I would have more than likely—"
Step one, agree with him. "I couldn't agree with you more, Captain Panaka. There are many things Master Jinn should have, but didn't, take into account." Step two, pose a question he can and will tackle. "But what do you think we should do while we wait here? What's your directive? What should we do?"
Panaka looked at her, a long moment, unmoving. She waited, feeling Rabé and Eirtaé holding their breath beside her, found herself doing the same. Panaka drew in a deep breath, folded his arms in thought, and with relief, Sabé could literally see his thoughts begin to shift from what he couldn't control to what he could control. And that was Captain Panaka, a man who was happy only when he had things in hand. He began pacing again, tapping his fingers in thought, thinking out loud.
"Yes, we must form a plan of action for making ourselves defendable against any attacks. We'll need to be ready to go when Jinn procures the hyperdrive. Sabé, you'll stay in the Queen's quarters when not absolutely necessary. I do not wish for our trick to be discovered so soon after the Queen's coronation. Eirtaé, Rabé, stay with Sabé and run interference." The girls all nodded agreement automatically and Panaka continued pacing, but now there was an air of certainty and purpose in his steps. "I will see to setting up a perimeter, a guard shift, and then we will deal with the rationing of goods and foodstuffs." He paused, in thought. "I'll go see to those things now. You three stay here."
And without any further pretense, he strode out of the room. As soon as the door hissed closed, a collective sigh escaped the girls. Eirtaé took two steps to the side and slumped into the bench there, muttering helpless prayers under her breath as Rabé put her face in her hands. Sabé's shoulders sagged from where they had been ramrod straight at her ears as she looked between her two friends. No one said a thing. Sabé suspected that her two friends were feeling like she was—shellshocked. Only that morning they had been going about their duties as normal. And then they had given death the slip twice as they fought their way out of the city capital, braved a blockade, and then landed a damaged ship on an Outer Rim planet—this left them lightyears from their sister handmaidens Yané and Saché, cut off from any news from home, stranded and dependent on two rescuers who they didn't know at all. Sabé paused. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. They had introduced themselves very cordially and promised a quick resolution to the current situation. Still, Sabé didn't understand why the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic sent two Jedi secretly to try to negotiate with the Trade Federation. The blockade and invasion should have been declared illegal, not endlessly debated and held up in the Senate. However, Sabé felt she should let go of her misgivings and just be grateful that the Ambassadors got there when they did. She was no politician and knew little about galactic procedure—only knew that she was tired of the same slow and impersonal treatment that Naboo had received from the Senate over the years.
Sabé glanced over at her friends—Rabé had joined Eirtaé on the bench and they were glazed over with strange, far-off looks in their eyes. She knew exactly why. They both had families on Naboo. Rabé was one of nine children, Eirtaé also had a brother and parents. It was strange, thinking about what would have happened if they had decided to stay on Naboo. The older Jedi, Qui-Gon, had said he sensed Sabé would be killed if she stayed. The words still chilled her. Without warning, she thought of three people she hadn't thought of in months. Aunt Carra, Uncle Deg, cousin Cloé. The only family she had left, and she hadn't spoken to them in at least a year. The regret was overwhelming, the worry was worse. If they were dead or hurt—the only family she had left in the entire galaxy—Sabé felt her stomach twist, aware of how utterly powerless she was at the moment. She swore to herself that if she made it back to Naboo—no, when she made it back to Naboo—she would mend that broken bridge. And that would have to do for now. Again, she took her personal feelings and thoughts and pushed them back where they couldn't rile her.
Needing to move, Sabé stood and began to pace the length of the room slowly, feeling the weight of the formal black gown bear down on her. Rabé and Eirtaé watched her from their seats, and tears glittered in Rabé's eyes. She looked from Sabé to Eirtaé, obliviously only thinking of home. "Do you think the reports of camps were true? That people were taken there to be... killed?" Her voice was a whisper, catching on the tears she was struggling to hold down.
Sabé stopped as s small, somber silence filled the chamber. The seriousness of the situation resonating with them all. They were so unprepared for this. So unprepared. Sabé went to sit beside Rabé, and put a comforting arm around her friend, knowing now was not the time for entertaining such dark possibilities. "No. The Trade Federation is all bark and no bite." She heard herself say the words as if someone else was speaking, even as Eirtaé sent her an apprehensive look from Rabé's other side. "We must be brave," Sabé whispered, trying to reassure both of her friends with an assurance she was completely void of.
This was not what she had expected when she become Primary Handmaiden. She was prepared to take a laser blast in the Queen's defense—but this was something else altogether. Broadsided didn't describe the position Padmé's absence put her in well enough. Without Padmé here to puppet her through her guise as the Queen of Naboo, Sabé felt wholly alone, unsure if she could convincingly play Queen for whatever amount of time they would be stuck here. She guessed that everyone on board would be looking to her for reassurance and command—the Naboo were fiercely loyal to their monarchs—but Sabé wasn't sure if she could supply either. None of the intense decoy training had covered this, and she had only known Padmé for a few months. Was that enough to accurately fool everyone on board? She absently touched the center of her breastbone where Padmé's amulet lay beneath the dress. I'll wear it again when my people are free, Padmé had said as she placed the necklace around Sabé's neck earlier that day. Growing distracted, Sabé rose again, wringing her hands without even realizing it as she sat back down in the throne chair, blank. She clasped her hands in her lap as Eirtaé and Rabé looked at her and then each other. None of them knew what to do. Padmé, why did you leave? I need you now. The desperate thought was met with silence.
Disrupting the perfect silence, Rabé's comlink buzzed loudly. All three of the girls jumped at the abrupt noise. One of the guard's voices crackled through. "Anders here. I can't get Panaka to answer his comm and there's a situation getting out of hand down here."
Rabé looked at Sabé helplessly, unsure of how to answer. Sabé took a deep, apprehensive breath and nodded, standing. "Tell him I'll be right there."
Author's Notes: Read and review! :)))